David LaChapelle's 2007 documentary Rize paid tribute to L.A.'s krumping community, using graceful, sophisticated cinematography to capture its raw, exhilarating energy. Rize glorified krumping without cheapening or sensationalizing it—a rare achievement when it comes to street dance.
Flex Is Kings has similar goals. Directed by Michael Beach Nichols and Deidre Schoo, the film depicts "flex," a style with roots in Jamaica that came into its own in the gritty Brooklyn neighborhood of East New York. Flex features unbelievable "bone-breaking" contortions, effortless gliding, and elaborate hat tricks—all in the service of storytelling. It's a sort of street circus. (Storyboard P, recently profiled in The New Yorker, uses elements of flex in his dancing.)
Flex, however, can be a tricky style to capture on screen. When the flex crew The Ringmasters competed on "America's Best Dance Crew," for instance, the style lost some of its potency in the glossy television setting and the flex crew was eliminated early on. Yet Flex is Kings presents Flex dancers in context—on the streets of East New York, preparing for Battlefest, the ultimate competition for "extreme street dancers.
The film features a cast of singular characters. Flizzo, a flashy showman who once famously released a bird from his mouth as a "punchline" during a performance, is trying to keep dancing while facing new responsibilities as a father; Jay Donn, one of the "ABDC" competitors, is introduced to the world of concert dance when baroque-modern dance group Company XIV invites him to star in their adaptation of Pinocchio.
Jay Donn in a scene from Flex Is Kings. Photo courtesy Visit Films.
Flex Is Kings, which was featured at last year's Tribeca Film Festival, has a series of screenings coming up across the country. Take a look at the trailer below (warning: an expletive is used), then click here to find out if it's coming to a city near you.
Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
Alexandra Wells can always tell when a dancer hasn't read her summer intensive information packet. Sometimes, says Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's director of artist training, there's a quick fix for the lack of preparation. "You can go and buy a long-sleeve shirt after you burn your shoulder really badly in that first floorwork class," she says. But not bringing enough of your special-order pointe shoes? "That's really dire."
Between reading the fine print, shopping for necessities and ramping up physically, getting ready for a summer intensive takes more than just dancing a lot. We broke down a step-by-step timeline: